The Gift of Presence

Gift of Presence.jpg

by Angela Martin

“Hey, wanna go out tonight?” my girlfriend Noelle asked, launching right into our phone conversation without a hello as she often does. “It will be great for you and Rob, and me and Tim to all see each other.”

“Uh, well, I’ve got so much to do. I’m leaving for Milan with my student group in a month and I have to start pulling things together. Rob and I have plans tomorrow night, too, and he’s scrambling to finish the taxes so I don’t know.”

“What does any of that have to do with tonight?”

“I’ll see. I’ll ask Rob and text you.”

“You would have no fun in your life if not for me. We’re going.”

And she hung up.

I couldn’t believe what I had just said to my best friend.

I’m too busy.

I’ve known Noelle since first grade. She is the sister I don’t have, someone I used to talk with on the phone every day, but with the busyness of my life, I haven’t seen in weeks. What’s wrong with this picture?

I’m wrong with this picture.

I quickly texted an apology: “Yes, let’s go out. I’m so sorry. Please still be my friend.”

She texted back: “You are stuck with me forever, my friend – even though you are so crazy and really not that fun. Don’t forget the ancient Chinese proverb: All work and no play makes Angela a very dull girl!”

We met at Abigail’s in Simsbury in the tavern upstairs and we threw our arms around each other in a bear hug (Noelle taught me there is no other kind). We made our way to the bar and Noelle spied two seats and somehow corralled two more and whispered to me, “This is when the New Yorker in me surfaces.”

We sat down and began to catch up. “You know today is the anniversary of my dad’s death. It’s been 13 years.”

“Oh, Noelle, I’m so sorry, I forgot. I can’t believe it’s been so long,” I said, my heart aching with the memory of it, amplified all the more by our phone call earlier.

How could I have said no to her today of all days?

“I don’t know if it was a sign that he’s okay, Ange, but I went outside to break up the day with a little fresh air. I breathed deeply, which felt so good, when I heard a bird singing. Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. That’s how my dad used to whistle, remember?”

“I do remember,” I said and leaned into tell her, “It was a sign, I’m sure of it.”

The subject changed as it easily does between friends, one story leading to another. The evening ended too soon, we said our goodbyes and drove home.

When I was climbing into bed, I thought back on the night, knowing it was one I would long remember. It was a night when my dear friend reminded me how essential it is to live today and not worry about tomorrow, to carve out time for the people we love most in the world – and to be grateful, so very grateful, for those who are walking the journey with us.

I love you, my friend, and always will.

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